A big freezing rain storm came, Thanksgiving 2010. Like Christo coating plastic wrap over everything, the QAWERAQ Peninsula was coated with several centimeters of clear, water ice, trowelled smooth by the usual horrendous wind combined with freezing cusps. Like a town emerging up through the surface of a skating rink, the two-dimensional plane of ice conforming skin-tightly to the three-dimensional surfaces... Schools shut down in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Seattle... No snow day here in Nome— at recess the kids launched huge standing glissades across the Zambonied playground. Routine hikes on the hillsides had morphed into Grade I alpine climbs. And the rocks!...
(above) King Mt. rocks, Sunday after Thanksgiving. The shellac was back! Holds frontpoints surprisingly well. Man, this is some tasty climbing, what better way to spend a Sunday than to cling to odd facets and angles of these metamorphics, basted with translucent climbing sauce and topped with snow whipped into a crusty froth. Little cracks and pockets stuffed with an extra centimeter or two of ice are especially crunchy. Now it's time to hang all your weight from one arm!
(right) Weak November light on King Mt. For every route I have topped, I have chickened out on four others. Frontpoints routinely explode from the verglas with great scrapings of metal. Four millimeters of the icy film bonded to the rock seems to be enough to support a front point or hooked tool, but the charm of climbing this film, stretched as it is beautifully over a bare face, quickly runs out when you are any distance above the landing, with tib/fib snapping devices strapped to your legs. As usual, the only tool placement you can really trust is a good solid thwack into a turf patch.
Hook picks or prosthetics. Torque the crack or broken back. Concentrate or frontpoint skate. Climb ice or Spot Device.
(above) Mud mounding action from early Spring 2010. The "mud mounds" are tailings piles left over from gold mining, dirt piles that freeze at certain humidities into the consistency of ice. They are worked over by gold miners with heavy machinery in the summertime, (all the more in 2010 due to the rising price of gold) become saturated by Fall rains, and freeze into icy dunes suitable for a blunt, barbaric form of ice climbing... and probably a toxic one as well.
(above) Tailings. Once again, this image is from a previous season, Spring of '09, and it is relevant to note that the dirt in this picture has been worked and reworked since then, so that the mounds in the picture are somewhat different than this year's mounds (of which I have no picture; the camera has been phasing out lately.)
(below) Chipped tooth in the Mounds.
It is perfectly possible to get one's "climbing ya-ya's" on tailings in winter. Out back of where I used to live in the legendary encampments on Happy Road in Fairbanks, an old mining pit was carved into the hillside of Ester Dome, and many a hippy friend was lured from the party up to the forested hillside to try mud climbing in a moonlit amphitheatre. When I got to Nome, it was like one vast mining pit, and I remembered the fun we had had on the tailings at Happy Road. Mud mounding is seldom without highballing: one never knows whether the impending fall will bring a harmless roll down steep mud, or a bone-splintering snaggy snapfest. The fine tailings are better; sparks fly from your tools when the tailings are coarse.
The mud mound's beauty lies in their transience. Like ice, the climbs are temporary, soon to be demolished by machines and resurrected in the form of new moufile:///Users/imcrae/Desktop/IMG_0668.JPGnds. I've been motoring out to the mounds frequently this month, in the thin crack of daylight between the end of work and sunset. Glazed and gleaming ever so faintly with the Thanksgiving shellac, the mounds lead inward to darkness like a corner of the desert. More on Mud Mounds
(above) The ice climbs at Ayasayuk in the early 2000s. Climbed with various partners over the years, and probably been climbed by others (Paul LaBolle among them)... These climbs have been blown to bits and are gone now... the pillar in the middle was a steep III or IV. Link to previous post on Ayasayuk
AYASAYUK is a secret spot out on the Norton Sound coast where great forces of nature clash together to shape the environment. There were giants in those days. A high running bluff with bedrock at its base terminates by the oceanside at Cape Nome, where the bluff has been blasted away in increments, leaving an impressive granitic face that grows higher every year. I never dare touch the poised tripwire-laden rubble pile until it is frozen up. Those guys that chew it out during the summer are bad-ass.
(Below) Ayasayuk, Saturday after Thanksgiving, 2010.
This year I kept getting shunted over to the left onto easier mud slopes. Often felt a vague sense of unease, probably due to looseness. Had a couple good direct pitches between several of the many roads, and several smatterings of wet water ice here and there. This is my Fifth Iteration of the cliff in my eleven years in Nome. Here are some pictures of earlier iterations.
(below) Last winter, December 2008.
(below) Somewhere around 2003.
Those were the days of fat ice. Before the giant came with his ANAUTAQ and chopped it all away. The Earth here has been battered; I'll bet the Earth was happy to find its new home in Shishamareff and Teller. All the preceding pictures were taken from the same spot on the Council Road; you can see the cliff growing bigger.
(above) Cliff detail, Ayasayuk, 2010. If you look very closely you can discern a few blobs of ice. It felt good to sink a pick in real, blue ice. Man, the lengths you gotta go just to get a little.
(above) Teller Road, Snake River bridge, December 2010. Christo also wrapped the roads for Thanksgiving. Even men with serious trucks expressed their trepidation. There was surely good ice in the Kigluaiks, but I just kept wussing out on the drive. One Sunday afternoon I went to the Sunset Rocks but walked the Teller Road from the Snake River to get to the rocks. The TINGMIURAQ on top of the sign had warned me not to drive any further.
People sometimes think that climbing ends with summer, or that climbing is only possible through organized efforts involving gear and ropes. But any thing, big or small, has routes on it. The chair where you are sitting has some good climbs on it, probably. Hence, climbing is always happening, at any time, at least to those of a bouldering mentality.
When everything is wrapped in cellophane, then everything becomes cellophane climbing. My tally for the Thanksgiving ice: 5 quick trips to the Mud Mounds, 3 trips up Anvil Mt. a trip to the Windmill boulders, a trip to Cape Nome, a trip to King Mt., a trip to the Sunset Rocks, and lots of trips without quite falling down. Climbing up and down obscure little circuits on moss and verglas, a little bit up here, a little bit down there, monkey hang off some turf, stretch the sacrum, go for it, hook the top, feeling fine....
Routes were done. I am reporting them. Let them now be worked by backhoe and explosive, front loader and sluicebox, until they are blasted away completely. It is Solstice now and a fine blizzard has buried the shellac under sastrugi curdles and whipped dollops. It is not comforting to know that the shellac will be down there all winter, under the snowpack, at the base of all things, waiting....